LOCALS shelled out an estimated US$3 billion on motor vehicle imports – predominantly from Japan – in the eight-year period from 2009, underlying the potential for fruitful economic relations with Tokyo, especially at a time when the Asian giant prepares to re-engage Africa.
Figures from the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) show that the country imported 323 000 vehicles in the period under review, with 198 800 coming directly from Japan. However, it is also believed that of the outstanding 124 200 vehicles, the bulk similarly originated from the East Asian country.
“Between 1 January 2009 and 31 March 2017, a total of 323 600 motor vehicles were imported into Zimbabwe from various countries (not limited to Japan),” said Zimra board secretary and director for legal and corporate services. “The CIF value for the vehicles imported into the country from Japan during the same period is US$719 271 700,” she said.
Experts say Japan is increasingly looking to Africa for markets to counter China’s continental offensive.
The America First policy – which is being driven by the Donald Trump administration and premised on the need to reduce America’s deficit with some of its major trading partners – is also prompting Japan to look for other global safety nets.
Crucially, America’s trade deficit with Japan stood at US$50 billion in 2016. Japan’s Prime Minister Mr Shinzo Abe told African Heads of State at the sixth edition of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) on August 27 last year that US$30 billion will be invested on the continent by 2018.
Zimbabwe also has a negative trade balance with Japan as it exports insignificant amounts of petalite, chrome and honey.
Last week, economic secretary at the Japanese Embassy to Zimbabwe Ms Yumi Sakata said although the bulk of the trade between the two countries is vehicle imports, there is need to broaden it to include other goods and services. “Most of the imports (about 95 percent) from Japan to Zimbabwe, are vehicles,” said Ms Sakata.
“From Zimbabwe to Japan, minerals such as chrome and petalite, among others. In Japan, petalite is used for the Japanese traditional pottery. And we heard that the quality of Zimbabwean petalite is one the best in the world. “While the amount is very small, Zimbabwean honey is also exported to Japan, (but) we hope that the trade relationship between the two countries will be developed more.
“We are also providing training for locals in several sectors of the economy and we hope that these trained people will be able to shine in global trade,” she said.
Japan is also carrying out key infrastructural projects in Zimbabwe. Feasibility studies for the rehabilitation of the Chirundu-Karoi highway are currently underway. Because of its centrality to the Southern African Development Community (Sadc), experts say Zimbabwe can be modelled into a transport hub for the region. Also, as the two countries continue to forge binding relations, 41 Zimbabweans have since been granted scholarships to study in Japan in areas such as local governance, engineering and agriculture. Some of the Japanese companies that are currently operating in the country are Kansai Plascon, Toyota Zimbabwe, SBT and World Navi.
Kansai Plascon has a controlling stake in the country’s largest paint manufacture, Astra Industries.